Saturday, 28 February 2009

A fake charity

Mention the world “charity” and people will automatically think of an organisation funded by public donations and existing to help the sick and needy. But in recent years, another form of charity has grown up, which is largely funded by government grants, and is essentially a lobbying group rather than one that actually helps anyone. They may claim to be independent of government, but in reality any opposition they display is merely to egg government on to impose every tighter restrictions in favour of their particular hobbyhorse. Such bodies have justifiably been dubbed Fake Charities.

One of the most egregious of these is Alcohol Concern. Far from devoting their efforts to helping the unfortunate victims of the disease of alcoholism, their primary raison d’être is to campaign in favour of every proposed curb on drinking and drinkers going. For this purpose, they derive well over half their income from the government. In 2007/08, their total income was £903,000. £515,000, or 57%, of this came directly from the government, with a mere £4,991, about half of one percent, coming from public donations.

If they had to resort to rattling collection boxes in the street in favour of banning happy hours, closing pubs and jacking up alcohol taxes, I wonder how much response they would get. Or might they even find that a kick in the teeth often offends?

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

Reaching for the revolver

A classic quotation here from Jonathan Neame, Chief Executive of Shepherd Neame:

For other industries the government “reached for the chequebook”, but for pubs, Labour “reached for the revolver”.
He warns that the rate of pub closures, far from abating, is likely to accelerate. On current trends, 25% of the existing pub stock could be lost, taking us down from the current figure of about 58,000 pubs nationwide to little over 40,000. That would not surprise me in the slightest.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Miles better beer?

One of the recent initiatives promoted by CAMRA is LocAle, which encourages pub licensees to stock at least one locally-produced cask beer. Now, up to a point there’s a lot to be said for this, as it makes sense to promote the distinctive products of your own area rather than every pub serving the same range of beers. It’s disappointing to say the least to go into a pub in Cornwall or the Lake District and find Pedigree, Bombardier and London Pride on the bar. However, when they go on to claim that it also helps in the fight against “global warming” by cutting “beer miles” and thus reducing CO2 emissions from transport my eyes start to glaze over a bit.

While it’s really outside the scope of this blog, I have to say I am somewhat sceptical about the claims made about man-made global warming, which all too often seem to be just another excuse for those who want to curb prosperity and freedom of movement. International trade has over the centuries greatly enhanced people’s lives by widening the range of goods they have access to. And, even if you accept the theory, given the vast range of drinks stocked by pubs, changing to a local source for one cask beer will be no more than a drop in the ocean.

But, if you want to take the issue of beer and CO2 emissions seriously, it raises some awkward questions. Ironically, many of the activities of CAMRA, in encouraging people to take an interest in different beers rather than just accepting the same old standard product, have increased the amount of beer miles, which on a per-pint basis must be far more than they were when the organisation was founded. A free house in Manchester offering Sharp’s Doom Bar from Cornwall, and Orkney Red McGregor, isn’t exactly promoting localism, yet that’s where you’ll often find the activists drinking rather than the tied pub round the corner offering beers brewed only a few miles away.

And surely, recognising that international beer brands are not going to go away, the advocates of reducing “beer miles” should be campaigning for them to be brewed locally under licence rather than making a virtue of authenticity of source.

Cask beer is not a homogenous commodity product, and promoting its diversity and local distinctiveness is to be encouraged. LocAle stands up purely on those terms and would be better without the “climate change” gloss. If we couldn’t drink anything from the other side of the world – or even the other side of the country – our drinking experience would be much diminished.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Send in the clowns

Pete Robinson is back with a pretty scathing attack on CAMRA over its stance on the smoking ban here in The Publican.

At the time Mike Benner (CAMRA Chief Executive) said: "This survey shows that non-smokers will be attracted to pubs after the ban comes into force", adding: "The key will be to ensure that other factors such as quality of real ale, food, atmosphere and welcome are all superb.

If this is the case then the traditional Community Pub will have a bright and healthy future."
Now that really happened, didn’t it? The widely-held belief that the smoking ban would bring large numbers of new customers into pubs must qualify as one of the biggest mass delusions of the 21st Century.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Local brew

I recently ran a poll on which of Greater Manchester’s independent family brewers readers of the blog thought brewed the best beer. This has now closed, after receiving a gratifying 35 votes, and the results were:

Holts: 6 (17%)
Hydes: 4 (11%)
Lees: 2 (5%)
Robinson’s: 9 (25%)
I don’t think much of any of them: 5 (14%)
I’ve never been to Manchester: 7 (20%)
I don’t drink beer: 2 (5%)

Obviously there are a number of visitors who either aren’t local or who read this blog more for the “political” content than the beer.

Greater Manchester is fortunate in still having four independent brewers with substantial tied estates – it is doubtful if any other comparable area has such a concentration and diversity of independent brewery owned pubs*. They have to walk a tightrope between catering for customers who are mostly just regular drinkers and not beer enthusiasts as such, but on the other hand producing beers that are sufficiently distinctive that they are not dismissed by those who are beer enthusiasts. To my mind, all four do a pretty good job of this, although I must confess that I find Hydes’ regular brews, while by no means poor beers, a little on the ordinary side. And that is despite the fact that it must be a toss-up between Hydes Original Bitter and Robinson’s Unicorn for the beer I’ve consumed most of in my entire drinking career. It’s perhaps surprising Lees got so few votes as theirs is one of the most distinctive ordinary bitters in the country.

* going back thirty years, this was certainly true of Nottingham, Oxfordshire and Dorset, but sadly no longer

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Practice what you preach

The Tories are reported to be launching a campaign to save the Great British pub. Well, good on them if they are, but it will be interesting to see if this is reflected in action on the ground. Will Tory-controlled local authorities start applying pub-friendly policies? This one certainly didn’t, and Tory-controlled Westminster is notorious as one of the most restrictive licensing authorities in the country. This is reminiscent of recent general elections when national Conservative spokesmen were keen to proclaim that their party was “motorist-friendly” at the same time as Tory-controlled councils were eager participants in “Speed Camera Partnerships” and slashing speed limits all over the place.

Friday, 20 February 2009

The Not so Good Pub Guide

Talk on other blogs of Good Beer Guide selection procedures and the merits of different pub guides made me think it might be worth resuscitating my suggestions for alternative pub guides that appeared in Opening Times a few years ago:

  • The Quiet Pint - pubs with no piped music. Hang on, that’s been done already in real life. Only problem is, if you’re not careful it ends up as a long list of Wetherspoons. But a total absence of piped music is often a sign of quality in independently run pubs.
  • Grown-Up Pubs - where an over-18s only rule is strictly enforced, and screaming babies and toddlers running around in circles won’t get in the way of adults having a quiet drink and possibly a relaxing meal. There might be some serious possibilities in this one too.
  • Pubs for Drinkers - there’s nothing to eat apart from crisps and nuts, so you can enjoy a few pints and a chat in an environment free of the rattle of cutlery and the smell of chip-fat. The country pubs section contains some especially interesting establishments
  • Pub Pets of Character - here you can find the pubs that still have a goldfish tank in the corner of the lounge. Special sections for elderly, obese, asthmatic labradors and bad-tempered cats that park themselves on the best seat near the fire, give you a vicious scratch if you come anywhere near and promptly go back to sleep again
  • The Grumpy Landlord Guide - modern customer care skills can go hang - here are the people who still treat pubs as their own private fiefdom where customers are at best grudgingly tolerated and choice insults abound. I know one Stockport pub that would certainly qualify!
  • Classic Pubs of the 50s and 60s - modernist architecture is now at the nadir of its popularity, and these highly distinctive designs are deeply unfashionable and an endangered species. Enjoy them now before they’re swept away by fake Victorian tat or turned into drive-thru McDonalds
  • Pubs for Collectors - the prized displays of foreign bank notes, matchbox labels and porcelain figurines assembled by old-school landlords have largely disappeared in favour of “books by the yard”, but they can still be found it you know where to look
  • Britain’s Best Outside Toilets - once a classic feature of the pub experience, especially in midwinter, but now increasingly falling victim to the nesh modern trend for warmth and comfort
  • Pubs for Pensioners - where nobody is ever seen drinking straight from the bottle or wearing a baseball cap the wrong way round, and you’ll feel at home if you want to discuss how you never had to lock your door back in the 1950s and why they ought to bring back National Service
  • Real Pub Snacks - forget your Walkers crisps and KP nuts, here you can get such traditional delicacies as pickled eggs, three-day old meat pies in a glass case at the end of the bar, and genuine pork scratchings with hairs still attached
To this could now be added:
  • Pubs for Smokers – the ones with the most comfortable, roomy and well-heated smoking shelters and outdoor areas, and where the licensee, while respecting the law, does his or her best to make smokers feel welcome. And the samizdata version could list those pubs which have smoking lock-ins, and those (apparently more numerous than you might think) in backstreets and remote rural areas where smoking continues to be allowed during normal opening hours.


I’ve said on several occasions recently how New Labour seems to be totally lacking in understanding of or sympathy for pubs. Pete Robinson certainly puts this point across with both barrels here.

Please understand this government hates pubs. The last thing they want right now is the nouveau unemployed filling our pubs while chuntering in loud voices about never voting for this shower again.

They don't care about you or your plight, your aspirations, your dreams. That's because you run a politically-incorrect establishment. You sell alcohol and fatty food for profit and encourage anti-social behaviour. You've never specifically catered for minorities, sexual or ethnic, so your pub doesn't feature in Nu-Labour's brave new world. They'd prefer to see at least 50% of pubs gone for good. Anything beyond that would be a positive bonus.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Spy in the pub

The Information Commissioner’s Office has criticised some local authorities in London such as Islington and Richmond for insisting on the installation of CCTV as a condition of licence approval for all licensed premises. While this might be justified in a handful of venues with a history of trouble, to require it even in the tamest and most respectable local is quite disproportionate, as the ICO point out.

It will impose a further substantial cost on licensees and help drive more pubs out of business. Many pubgoers will feel profoundly uneasy to be under intensive surveillance and, as has often happened in the past with such systems, it is very likely it will be used for purposes other than those for which it was claimed to be installed, such as monitoring how long people stay in pubs and how they get there and back, or even helping enforce the smoking ban. And what happens when groups such as Halloween revellers enter pubs wearing masks? Does that trigger an immediate police raid?

As ever, the totalitarians and police state enthusiasts will repeat the mantra that “the innocent have nothing to fear”, but it really is a gross invasion of privacy to be constantly watched when you’re just having a night out. It could also be the case that some people will see it as a further reason to stay at home, where they are not being watched – yet...

Legislating from an ivory tower

It was astonishing to learn that the minister responsible for regulating the licensed trade, Alan Campbell, couldn’t remember the last time he had visited a pub. This is yet further evidence of how out-of-touch and remote from the lives of ordinary people New Labour are – something I have remarked on before. This, of course, is the party that brought us non-driving Transport Ministers and a vegetarian Agriculture Minister. If politicians do not see the point of pubs and fail to understand why people should want to visit them it is hardly surprising they end up saddling them with inappropriate and burdensome regulation.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009


CAMRA has recently set up a web forum here. However, it has not been widely publicised, and so far has seen relatively little activity. It was founded on 10 December 2008 and so far only has 450 posts and 175 members. It also seems oddly restricted in its scope, with sections for “Save our Pubs”, “Beer Festivals” and “CAMRA Publications”, but nothing else. Whatever happened, for example, to CAMRA’s alleged campaign about reinforcing the rights of adults to enjoy alcohol responsibly? However, interestingly, it is open to non-members. I do wonder, though, how long it will be before it descends into acrimony, especially over the issue of the smoking ban.

Merseyside’s latest Wetherspoon’s

Courtesy of the Southport Drinker, I’m told that Wetherspoon’s plan to mark the association of the family of a certain well-known German leader with Liverpool by naming their latest outlet in the city after him. They seem to have got the face a little wrong, though...

A curious reversal

It is well established in medical science that promiscuous sex significantly increases your chances of contracting a variety of diseases. Yet the government, while alerting people to the risks and ways of combating them, would certainly never dream of telling us that confining sex within marriage was the only answer, and if they did so it would rightly be dismissed as puritanical and prescriptive. Yet the advice we are given on other lifestyle matters – eating, drinking and smoking – increasingly falls into that very category. The Victorians were, at least officially, extremely prudish about sex, but were happy to eat, drink and be merry, often to considerable excess. Yet nowadays we have seen a strange inversion, with unprecedented liberty in sexual matters, but an ever-growing Puritanical disapproval of whatever else we choose to put into our bodies. It seems that there is a stratum of people in society who throughout the ages seek to impose control and restriction over the lives of others, but from generation to generation their focus changes.

While it is not strictly making the same point, I was prompted into these thoughts by this review of a book entitled Is Food the New Sex?, which talks of “a curious reversal in moralizing”.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Drink or dole?

The latest intrusion of the government into people’s private lives is the plan to quiz jobseekers as to how much they drink. Surely this is entirely people’s own business, and as long as they are able to function in a job should be of no concern to the State. And, if people are unable to work due to alcohol problems, they can claim invalidity benefit anyway. The authorities may claim to be only targeting “problem drinkers”, but how long will it be before people are refused benefits because they exceed the official alcohol guidelines of two thimblefuls every Preston Guild? And who will be next – smokers, the overweight, those who don’t eat their “five a day”?

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Price isn’t everything

“They’re selling Carlsberg at 30p a bottle at the supermarket down the road,” an aggrieved licensee complained to me. “How can I hope to compete with that?” You can understand her concern, and of course she can’t come close to competing on price terms, but in reality she doesn’t have to.

Throughout my drinking career, alcohol in the off-trade has been cheaper than that bought in pubs. The gap may have widened a bit over the years, but it has always been there. A licensee has to pay business rates, utility bills and staff wages, none of which you include when thinking how much the can or bottle you’ve just got out of the fridge has cost. The overheads a pub has to carry mean that it is always going to be dearer than just sitting at home, and surely all pubgoers realise that.

Nobody claims that restaurants are suffering because you can buy ready meals at Tesco for a third of the price of dishes on the menu, so the idea that pubs are suffering because cans of Stella are dirt-cheap doesn’t really stack up. People don’t sit down and make a calculated economic choice between going out to the pub and staying in with a few cans. If they want to go out, they will go out, and going to the pub should be as much about socialising as simply drinking alcohol. Many pub visits happen when people are out of the house anyway, at work, on holiday or shopping, so the option of drinking at home is not available to them. Obviously, if intoxication is the sole objective, the most cost-effective way of doing it is with cheap cider or spirits from the off-licence, but should pubs be targeting people who just want to get drunk?

Of course price can have an impact on the margins, maybe leading people to go out a little less often, or to tilt the balance a little from on to off-trade consumption. I’m not saying it has no effect at all. But I don’t believe that relative price is even the biggest single factor leading people to drink less in pubs – see my earlier post on the other factors at work. Lifestyles have changed and society has moved on. And the idea that simply raising the price of alcohol in the off-trade will do anything to encourage people to visit pubs is totally misplaced. It’s funny how you never heard all this bleating about supermarket prices killing pubs before the smoking ban and the recession.

In Continental countries such as France and Germany, off-trade prices are considerably lower than ours, and the gap between on- and off-trade greater, but they do not have the same problems associated with off-trade consumption as we supposedly do, and their bars aren’t necessarily suffering either. This suggests that the root causes are in social factors rather than simply price levels as such.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Age of confusion

Past experience shows that you can’t expect major drinks companies to do much to stand up for the consumers of their products, and their response to the recent official pronouncement that under-15s shouldn’t be allowed any alcohol at all was predictably limp. However, one spokesperson, Kristin Wolfe, head of alcohol policy at SABMiller, went beyond this and got her facts seriously confused. She said:

“It's important that children know where their parents stand: that underage drinking is not acceptable. The Chief Medical Officer's advice is an important contribution to reducing the harm caused by underage drinking and will hopefully contribute to making a real difference.”

She added that SABMiller believes that people who are under the legal drinking age should not drink alcohol and supports efforts to raise awareness among parents, retailers, and other adults about the risks of underage drinking and giving alcohol to young people.
However, to be strictly accurate, 18 is not “the legal drinking age” in this country – it is only the age at which people may purchase alcohol in bars and off-licences. They are allowed to purchase beer, cider and wine at 16 for consumption with a meal in a table-service restaurant. And parents may legally give their children small quantities of alcohol from the age of five upwards, so, if anything, five is the “legal drinking age”. The government advice was not a statement of the law, it was going well beyond what the law demands.

Clearly it wouldn’t look good if drinks companies appeared to be actively encouraging parents to give their children alcohol. But they are doing neither themselves nor their customers any favours by eagerly appeasing every piece of anti-drink nannying spewed out by the authorities. Could they not have simply said that it should be a matter for parental discretion? And it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence when they display such ignorance of what the law actually is.

And do the brewers really, hand on heart, want young people to grow up never tasting alcohol until they reach 18, at which point they can go in the pub and, never having touched the stuff before, drink three pints and throw up?

Thursday, 12 February 2009

A warming tale

Many licensees will have breathed a sign of relief at the news that a planning inspector had reversed a decision by Brighton & Hove Council to ban the Heart & Hand pub from having patio heaters on its outdoor terrace. It is interesting that the inspector said that he could see no more efficient way of heating the terrace, thus implicitly accepting that it was reasonable for the pub to want to do so, and agreed that without the heating the pub would lose trade.

Presumably the local council zealots would not accept that it was legitimate as it was done for the benefit of smokers, who in their eyes are outcasts unworthy of any consideration. Of course heating the open air isn’t the most efficient use of energy, but if they’re concerned about reducing CO2 emissions then it would make sense to let the smokers use a properly insulated room inside the pub. Oh, hang on, two aspects of political correctness seem to be in direct conflict there.

And apparently running a patio heater for two hours puts out about as much CO2 as driving a car for 7.6 miles, so the contribution it makes to overall emissions is in any case minuscule.

Brighton & Hove Council’s general love of banning is dealt with more fully by Dick Puddlecote here.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Smoking bans snuffed out?

There’s encouraging news from the USA that the recession is leading individual states to defer plans for smoking bans or even in some cases to reverse them. This underlines the point that such measures should never be regarded as inevitable or irreversible, and if opposed vigorously and tenaciously enough can be defeated. Sometimes if proposals can be put off for long enough they tend to disappear off the official radar as attention is turned to other things.

Now this blog is certainly not a cheerleader for any particular political party and I am under no illusions that a change of government would lead to a dramatic reversal of the illiberal tendencies of the past twelve years. However, the Conservatives have at least said they will review the policy and it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that some concessions may be made, so it is crucial to keep the issue in the public eye and never to accept the ban as a fait accompli. It could even be that in future Labour realises that its joyless, ban-everything policies have led to a serious loss of working-class votes, as a number of its back-benchers have pointed out.

Hopefully when drinks industry representatives meet Alastair Darling they will make the point strongly that the smoking ban is a major factor behind the current difficulties being faced by the pub trade. Whether they will get a sympathetic reception on this or any other issue is of course extremely doubtful, given that New Labour just does not seem to “get” pubs at all.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Munch crunch

It seems that the restaurant trade is suffering from the recession in much the same way as pubs, with over 100 closing each month. However, given some of the examples quoted of £10 starters and £40 per person for a meal, it’s not exactly surprising that they have become the victims of people economising. In fact the general experience of pubs serving food, and of restaurants at the lower end of the scale, is that trade is holding up reasonably well as people forgo big-ticket purchases but are still willing to treat themselves to affordable pleasures.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

The giant of the pub world

There’s an interesting interview with Tim Martin, head of J. D. Wetherspoon, in today’s Sunday Times. While I'm not a great lover of Wetherspoon’s pubs, you have to admire Tim Martin for defying the conventional wisdom of the industry, and it cannot be denied that the company has been very successful within an overall declining market. It is apparently poised to become Britain’s biggest pub chain in terms of sales value, if not number of outlets.

Also good to see him cocking a snook at the ludicrous official guidelines on safe drinking levels, rather than meekly going along with them like his counterparts in other companies:

How much? Probably about 40 alcoholic units a week, he says. He finishes most days with “a couple of pints of Abbot, a couple of glasses of wine”. He rails against the government’s 21-units-a-week dictum. “The doctor who came up with it said there’s no medical foundation to it; 70 to 80 units a week.” As a limit, or a recommendation? He laughs.

How many pubs do you go to?

Some years ago, I remember a work colleague telling me about someone they knew on Tyneside, who was a middle-aged man and fairly hardened drinker, but reckoned he had only visited about 25 different pubs in his life. I suppose this is believable, particularly if he always took foreign package holidays, but it struck me as completely at variance from my own experience as someone who takes a positive interest in visiting new and different pubs.

Now I’m not someone who spends every night, or even most nights, out drinking, but even so I reckon over the years I must have visited somewhere between two and three thousand different pubs, maybe more. So this prompted me to run a poll on how many different pubs readers of the blog visited in a typical month. This has now closed, and the 26 responses were as follows:

0: 8 (30%)
1: 1 (3%)
2: 3 (11%)
3-5: 4 (15%)
6-10: 4 (15%)
11-20: 5 (19%)
Over 20: 1 (3%)

The number of people answering 0 is perhaps a little surprising, as you wonder what they’re doing reading a blog about pubs and beer in the first place; however, in the last week I seem to have sparked some interest in the political blogosphere and that’s probably what’s behind it. It should be noted that the poll is nothing to do with how much you drink – the respondents could have been drinking soft drinks in each pub.

For what it’s worth, I reckon I visited 11 different pubs in January. None for the first time, although two I had not visited for some years. That’s probably quite a low figure for me – a month including a holiday or a CAMRA pub crawl would give rather more. Even so, I suspect that is more than at least 95% of the population.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Is small beautiful?

A couple of years ago, when Greene King reduced the strength of draught Old Speckled Hen from 5.2% ABV to 4.5%, they also announced that henceforward, the 5.2% bottled version would only be available in 355ml bottles. The supermarkets made valiant efforts to sell these at a similar price to competing beers in 500ml, but eventually admitted defeat and the 500ml bottles were back.

Now I note my local Tesco selling 330ml bottles of a few ales, including OSH again and Hobgoblin, alongside the 500ml ones. However, I really can’t see these taking off, especially as the price/volume ratio is higher than it is for the bigger bottles. If you’re buying to drink at home, you want to a have a near-pint 500ml, not some titchy little measure that only comes halfway up the glass. I’ll give it six months...

Raise a glass to health

Apparently, Guinness are going to introduce branded glasses showing the number of alcohol units in a pint, in their case 2.3. “Diageo, the owner of Guinness, said it hoped that the move would help drinkers to stay within the Government’s recommended guidelines on alcohol consumption.” So, if you order a second pint, do you get a patronising lecture from the barperson on how you’re slowly killing yourself? It is depressing how major drinks companies are happy to kow-tow to the ludicrous official messages on “safe drinking levels”, especially as they know very well that if everyone adhered to these guidelines, their business would go down the pan.

It may be some consolation to the health-conscious that in real life you won’t get anywhere near 2.3 units from a pint of Guinness because the thick head means that it is typically at least 10% under-measure - just look at the picture. It is scarcely credible nowadays to think that in the mid-80s my local Hydes pub served Guinness through metered pumps into oversize glasses.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Beer blogs

You may have noticed that I’ve had a bit of a revamp of the left-hand side bar. The first thing I did was to add a select list of beer-related blogs. There are hundreds of these out there – see, for example, the list on Stonch’s Beer Blog – and so I have concentrated on those that are local to me, those that address wider issues than just “what I had to drink last night” and those belonging to people who have left comments, some obviously falling into more than one category.

While I do enjoy trying new and different beers (and ciders) in a variety of styles, I’m not someone who does so obsessively and, as I say here, for me there is much more to going to the pub than just the beer. A blog that is mainly about the author’s experience of sampling rare beers leaves me rather cold. I do draw on my personal experiences here, but generally to illustrate wider points. Personally I wouldn’t feel too much hard done by if I went through a month on just a routine diet of Holts, Hydes, Robinson’s and Sam Smith’s.

I’ve also added a panel of links to recent posts on various blogs that may be of interest to readers of this one. They’re a mixture of beer-related blogs and those such as The Devil’s Kitchen and Dick Puddlecote that often address issues related to the restriction of lifestyle freedom, but I’ve excluded the mainstream political blogs such as Guido Fawkes and Iain Dale. I would warn you that some tend to be rather free with the use of expletives! This is most definitely not a swearblog, although I sometimes feel sorely tempted. If you find there’s an uneasy juxtaposition between the political and the beery, then so be it, the same is true of this blog as a whole.

Edit 08/02/09: I have now separated the links to beer-related and more general blogs as this seems to make more sense.

A cloud on the horizon?

I can’t say I could work up much outrage over Government proposals to get manufacturers to make, and shops to sell, smaller chocolate bars, crisp packets and fizzy drink cans. So long as the bigger ones are still available, where’s the problem? And even if they’re not, you can still eat or drink two. It would certainly be a step forward if motorway service areas were required to sell normal-sized packets of crisps and 330ml cans of soft drink instead of just 55g “grab-bags” and 500ml bottles, both of which are far too big for a child.

The same applies to measures and pack sizes of alcoholic drinks – if they’re not big enough for you, you can always have another one. Indeed I’ve argued in the past that pubs should offer the choice of 125ml wine glasses, as a 175ml glass of Chardonnay contains more alcohol than a pint of bitter, and that the brewers of 9% ABV super-strength lagers might be well advised to sell them in 330ml cans rather than 500ml. It might be a good idea too for more pubs, especially the beer exhibition-type ones, to offer draught beer in third-pint glasses.

However, it’s entirely possible that this kind of arm-twisting of food and drink manufacturers could have a more pernicious side. Might a future government seek to “persuade” brewers to reduce the strength of widely-available beers in the interest of public health? It’s not hard to imagine a gentlemen’s agreement to reduce the strength of all those 5% lagers by 10% to 4.5%, and indeed 4.5% becoming a de facto maximum strength for draught beers. Where would that then leave all the speciality cask beers of higher strength than this? It may seem far-fetched, but things that once seemed even more far-fetched have actually come to pass. So if it does happen, remember that you read it here first.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Alternative use

I've just been taking a look at the website of estate agents Fleurets, who specialise in licensed premises. There's a sobering statistic on the front page that one-third of the pubs they sold in 2008 went for "alternative use". There are at least seven pubs in my local area with their freeholds up for sale which "may be suitable for alternative use". They say they currently have 697 pubs on their books, which is over 1% of the total number of pubs in the country - and that's only one firm of many.

It makes interesting reading to keep up with the movements in the property market, but it really does underline the upheaval that the pub trade is currently experiencing.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Nanny in jackboots

While browsing the BBC news website today I was given an apoplectic fit by this particular display of intolerance from one Dr Alan Maryon-Davis. Apparently we all need more nannying and are surprisingly receptive to it. I can assure him that at Curmudgeon Towers we certainly don’t! I have to wonder at the mindset of these people who get off on banning things and telling others how to live their lives. If we ever end up with a totalitarian régime in Britain, they will find no shortage of willing accomplices. As usual, the Filthy Smoker fisks it more effectively, and profanely, than I could ever do.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Dying young?

I’ve often heard it bandied about that the level of poor diet and lack of exercise in modern society will lead to those in young adulthood nowadays becoming the first generation in centuries to die at an earlier age than their parents.

This struck me when reading this neat juxtaposition from the ever-stimulating Raedwald. Despite all the health scares, we are continuing to live longer, and to stay healthy for longer, and demographers forecast that this trend will continue indefinitely. So you do have to wonder what is the agenda behind all the “guidelines” which put beyond the pale behaviour that has always been regarded as moderate and reasonable? Is the ultimate aim to ratchet down the popular view of “normality” to prepare the population for ever tighter restrictions on how they are allowed to live their lives?

Monday, 2 February 2009

Winds of change

Since the late 1970s, the amount of beer drunk in the on-trade in Britain has more than halved from 37 million bulk barrels a year to 17 million. This is often laid at the door of the ever-increasing price gap between the on and off-trades. While there is a certain amount of truth in that, it certainly doesn’t stand up as the sole cause, and in reality there are much wider and more diverse social factors at work.

Here, in no particular order, are some of the reasons why people visit pubs less:

  • The decline of heavy industry, meaning that there are far fewer manual workers for whom going in the pub every night and drinking numerous pints is a way of life.
  • The smoking ban. Obviously. That, at a stroke, probably removed at least 10% of the wet trade from pubs.
  • The trend away from beer towards wine. Historically, pubs have done wine very poorly and in any case it is something generally drunk with a meal rather than simply during a drinking session.
  • The increase in eating out, which tends to replace simple drinking sessions and is often not done in pubs.
  • There is a much wider and more interesting range of drinks available in the off-trade than there was thirty years ago, whereas, unless you're a cask beer fan, the range of drinks in most pubs can be somewhat limited.
  • Mass car ownership, meaning that taking loads of cans or bottles home is a more practical proposition than it used to be.
  • The erosion of traditional gender roles, meaning that it is no longer acceptable for the husband to go out to the pub while the wife stays at home with the kids.
  • The increased reluctance of many people to drive after consuming alcohol within the legal limit, thus reducing the number of potential opportunities to go for a drink in a pub. And car ownership and participation in driving are much higher than 30 years ago.
  • Employers are in many cases much less tolerant of even light lunchtime drinking by their staff.
  • Homes themselves are much more congenial places than they were in the 1970s and offer far more in the way of entertainment, with central heating, multi-channel TV, DVDs, computer games etc.
  • The Internet – sitting at home surfing porn posting blogs can be a lot more fun than sitting in the pub, and can become somewhat addictive.
The overall effect is that while many people still see going to the pub as something worth doing, they tend to regard it as a once or twice a week treat, not a daily routine. The pub trade has fallen off much more at lunchtimes and early in the week than at weekends.